GLOBAL INSIGHT / Bahrain report 2019

Pioneering in fintech

The agile regulation of the Central Bank of Bahrain and the extensive network of Bahrain FinTech Bay have attracted flagship innovators such as Amazon Web Services to the kingdom.

GLOBAL INSIGHT

“Bahrain has developed an extensive fintech ecosystem to future-proof our financial services sector and further transition the country into an innovation-driven economy,” said Khalid Saad, CEO of Bahrain FinTech Bay (BFB), the leading hub for fintech in the Middle East and North Africa region and a key part of that ecosystem.

Enabling Bahrain to become a global fintech center is a pioneering regulatory framework for the technologies established by the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), probably the region’s most respected and robust financial regulator.

The framework includes CBB’s dedicated fintech and innovation unit, a regulatory sandbox, and regulations for crypto assets, crowdfunding, open banking and digital advice. “We work with the industry to design best-in-practice legislation and regulations, and we act quickly to deal with changes in the business environment,” said Rasheed Mohammed Al Maraj, CBB’s governor.

To further promote technology, “We have licensed two digital banks to set a new scene for Bahraini banking,” Al Maraj stated. The CBB is also one of the supporting partners of BFB, which was set up in 2018 as a public-private partnership by the Bahrain Economic Development Board and FinTech Consortium, an ecosystem builder that operates BFB and similar hubs worldwide. BFB incubates, accelerates and provides office space to 40 startups with varied geographical origins, which benefit from a network of local and international companies that have moved to Bahrain to join the new ecosystem. “We have nearly 100 partners including Microsoft, Cisco, American Express, Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Visa, Mastercard and Finastra that contribute know-how and some sit on our advisory board,” said Saad.

BFB is also building connectivity with other centers of excellence, he noted, “We have a memorandum of understanding with the FinTech Association of Japan, for example, and are exploring collaborations with them as we continue to develop the next generation of fintech leaders.”

Another creating leaders is investor and accelerator Flat6Labs Bahrain, a 50-50 partnership between Egypt-based Flat6Labs and businesswoman Sabah Al Moayyed. “The labor fund, Tamkeen, funds us to invest in companies from any country and sector. We are looking for gems from places like Japan that want to move to the Gulf for funding,” said Ryaan Sharif, managing director of Flat6Labs Bahrain.

To date, Flat6Labs has run two successful accelerator cycles, he said: “For example, we seed-funded Inagrab, software for retailers. It has got a second round and is close to securing much more.”  Wider opportunities for innovators include additional accelerator programs from organizations such as American Express Middle East and Hong Kong’s Nest, and funding from, among others, the Bahrain Development Bank’s $100 million Al Waha Fund of Funds. “Bahrain has other advantages for technology companies,” stated Sharif: “The biggest is the cost of doing business. Next is great regulation, and ease of access to decision makers and clients. Bahrain opens doors.”